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Qallunaat! Why White People Are Funny
January 30, 2014 5:48 PM   Subscribe

This documentary pokes fun at the ways in which Inuit people have been treated as “exotic” documentary subjects by turning the lens onto the strange behaviours of Qallunaat (the Inuit word for white people). The term refers less to skin colour than to a certain state of mind: Qallunaat greet each other with inane salutations, repress natural bodily functions, complain about being cold, and want to dominate the world. Their odd dating habits, unsuccessful attempts at Arctic exploration, overbearing bureaucrats and police, and obsession with owning property are curious indeed. A collaboration between filmmaker Mark Sandiford and Inuit writer and satirist Zebedee Nungak, Qallunaat! brings the documentary form to an unexpected place in which oppression, history, and comedy collide.
Qallunaat! Why White People Are Funny
posted by Rumple (40 comments total) 107 users marked this as a favorite

 
Miner, H. (1956) Body Ritual Among The Nacirema. American Anthropologist, 58(3). P. 503-507.
posted by cashman at 6:16 PM on January 30 [33 favorites]


I read that piece ("Nacirema") the very first day of my first anthropology course in college. I ended up majoring in anthro. I still think about it all the time.
posted by Sara C. at 6:18 PM on January 30 [2 favorites]


This looks neat. I remember the first time I heard about a German guy who was a Professor of American Studies at a German University. "What, people are studying us? But that's pointing the wrong direction!"
posted by benito.strauss at 6:39 PM on January 30 [2 favorites]


Some of the things are presented with comment, some without, but even the comment is pretty low key. Just got to the painfully hilarious part at 13:30 where an Inuit woman reads aloud from a 1948 Canadian government publication called "The Book of Wisdom for Eskimos". After a while you wonder if they somehow forgot to mention the existence of a mysterious substance called "snow" or if she just skipped that part.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:45 PM on January 30 [1 favorite]


Very very good (and quietly hilarious). Thanks.
posted by parki at 7:03 PM on January 30 [1 favorite]


Patchy at first, but golden once it gets going.

I remember the first time I heard about a German guy who was a Professor of American Studies at a German University. "What, people are studying us? But that's pointing the wrong direction!"

Pssst. The founder of the field was born in Aurora.
posted by PMdixon at 7:04 PM on January 30


The Book of Wisdom for Eskimos.

Sometimes satire isn't.
posted by njohnson23 at 7:06 PM on January 30 [4 favorites]


Loved it. Thanks for this jewel!
posted by Anitanola at 7:08 PM on January 30




so...what do they call black people?
posted by Renoroc at 7:22 PM on January 30 [1 favorite]


I heard they have 100 words for coffee
posted by Teakettle at 7:25 PM on January 30 [64 favorites]


So excellent.

Especially around 16:00 when a woman is reading from "The Book of Wisdom for Eskimo," and everybody is cracking up at its absurdity and derision/condescension. Right, like Eskimo people didn't know that a newborn baby cries and can't talk.

What fools these mortals be, and good to laugh.
posted by simulacra at 7:26 PM on January 30


Great stuff. I was laughing out loud at 3:34. "OK, just put your head here."

Reminds me of Babakiueria (clip 1, clip 2). I've seen the whole thing and it's absolutely excellent. Babakiueria is on the "searing" end of the satire spectrum in comparison, nothing gentle about it at all.

[Well hey, here's Babakiueria previously on Mefi, but with dead links to video. And there's even a mention of Quallunaat!]
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 7:37 PM on January 30 [6 favorites]


Wow, another funny bit, around 39:50 at the Bureau of White Man's Affairs:
Nicknames used to be given out to every possible Qallunaat.

There was a [not sure how to spell it], which means "Drooping Pants."

There was a Qallunaat called [not sure how to spell it], which means "One Who is Forever Cold."

There was another one called [not sure how to spell it], which means "Small-Buttocked One," or maybe in today's lingo "Weenie Buns."
posted by simulacra at 7:59 PM on January 30


So glad to have watched this. And saved for sharing in future.

IT's amazing how well and easily it seesaws between sharp, serious, chagrined and hilarious. Great filmmaking.
posted by Miko at 7:59 PM on January 30 [1 favorite]


Aside: I think that is a young Aunt Bee serving pudding at about 22:00.
posted by Miko at 8:03 PM on January 30


I'm only a few minutes in but it's cracking me up. Love it.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:04 PM on January 30


Wow, I clicked that The Book of Wisdom for Eskimo link -- it is amazing! First two sentences:

The first part of this book is about how to be healthy and happy. When we have good food, warm clothes, good kind friends and no sickness we are happy.

OH SHIT! Thanks guys! You've just solved all my problems! I thought it was a lot more complicated than that.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:12 PM on January 30


I love stuff like this. It's similar to Other Countries, Other Customs - Kayonga Kagame Shows Us the World. This Time: Darkest Austria
posted by Benjamin Nushmutt at 8:18 PM on January 30 [12 favorites]


omg that last link is great
posted by Earthtopus at 8:28 PM on January 30


Not denying the racism and colonialsm in the book of wisdom, but the simplicity of the language is being confused with the gross paternalism and one-way flow of information. This is an instructional text to be translated to a language that the English-speaking translators were not as fluent in, and keeping it at a grade-3 type reading style makes it easier to produce. There's a neat newspaper article from 1950 on the translation challenges because of different scripts that offhandedly mentions the limited materials available to first nation people because of languages, that is if you didn't want to read the bible and missionary tracts.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:38 PM on January 30 [1 favorite]


but the simplicity of the language is being confused with the gross paternalism and one-way flow of information.

My problem isn't the simplicity of the language, it's that they're defining other people's happiness for them.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:39 PM on January 30 [1 favorite]


Two columns discussing the book's translation issues and paternalism: part one and part two, and bonus, another Canadian equivalent! The Eskimo Book of Knowledge part one and part two.

The whole series of columns are fascinating reading, lots of historical information, stories and dry sarcasm. There goes the rest of my morning!
posted by viggorlijah at 9:11 PM on January 30 [3 favorites]


Fact: White people know all the different varieties of apples.
posted by A dead Quaker at 9:57 PM on January 30 [1 favorite]


I heard they have 100 words for sex.
posted by cman at 10:31 PM on January 30


Wasn't there also a thing going on where Canada was taking people from the only somewhat frozen north and putting them way up in the Arctic while they had no more clue how to do the ice life than a random White guy?
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 10:38 PM on January 30 [1 favorite]


save alive nothing that breatheth: you may be thinking of the arctic re-settlement program Canada conducted for "sovereignty" purposes over the north in the 1950s. The Canadian government relocated many Inuit families from Hudson's Bay to the barren and inhospitable High Arctic to establish more of a "presence" in the north. It's a heart wrenching and completely shameful story - if interested, one might read "The Long Exile" by Melanie McGrath.
posted by parki at 11:05 PM on January 30 [3 favorites]


ISAAC: Has anybody read that Nazis are gonna march in New Jersey, you know? We should go there, get some guys together. Get some bricks and baseball bats, and explain things to 'em.
WOMAN: There was this devastating satirical piece on that in the Times.
ISAAC: Well, a satirical piece in the Times is one thing, but bricks get right to the point.
WOMAN: But biting satire is better that physical force.
ISAAC: No, physical force is better with Nazis. It's hard to satirise a guy with shiny boots.

posted by Apropos of Something at 11:34 PM on January 30 [2 favorites]


Violence is bad. There's no reason that anyone should violently attack anyone, ever. But watching a documentary and "realizing" what's become Anthro 101 is a far cry from, say, giving them their land back. Each culture's metaphors are no better, or worse, than others - and while turnabout is surely fair play, it's unclear what new perspective I'm supposed to get here.
posted by Apropos of Something at 11:36 PM on January 30


I love this on so many levels my brain can't handle it.

And I"m only 13" in
posted by kanewai at 11:44 PM on January 30 [2 favorites]


In conclusion, white people is a land of contrasts.
posted by blue_beetle at 3:55 AM on January 31 [7 favorites]


I heard they have 100 words for coffee
posted by Teakettle


Well, you would say that.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:47 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


Body Ritual Among the Nacirema. Pioneering effort from 1956.
posted by jfuller at 8:57 AM on January 31


that is the very first comment in this thread though
posted by elizardbits at 9:31 AM on January 31 [4 favorites]


It is really awesome though! I'm glad the Nacirema piece was posted, I'd never read it before.
posted by corb at 9:44 AM on January 31


My problem isn't the simplicity of the language, it's that they're defining other people's happiness for them.

Well, and the irony of telling people whose communities have survived for milennia (I think?) in the Arctic how to take care of a baby.
posted by Miko at 9:45 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


Miko: Pre-Dorset culture goes back ~> 4000 years.
posted by parki at 10:53 AM on January 31


Thanks. I really didn't know enough about the migration history and all that to be sure it wasn't more recent than I might've guessed.
posted by Miko at 11:47 AM on January 31


It's fairly consensually thought that the ancestors of the contemporary Inuit arrived as part of the Thule archaeological culture migration about 1000 years ago, and therefore Inuit are not biological or cultural descendents of the Dorset and pre-Dorset (with one possible small group as an exception).

But still, a thousand years in the High Arctic vs. a desk job in Ottawa....
posted by Rumple at 12:20 PM on January 31 [2 favorites]


In Chronique d'un été (Chronicle of a Summer), the French ethnographic filmmaker Jean Rouch made an ethnographic documentary of Paris, France using the same style that he had previously used for his ethnographic films in Africa.
posted by jonp72 at 12:43 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


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